To celebrate the launch of my semi-regular – frequency dependant upon the uptake and how often I've got something vaguely interesting and relevant to say, not that that usually stops me – newsletter, I thought I'd write a longer blog post to discuss some of the inspirations behind the novels in the Tamboli Sequence. In particular, I'll focus on the political background infiltrating the stories, and try to answer the question 'is that what you believe yourself?'
The novels themselves are very much focused on the characters and how they react to the world-shaping events in which they've become entangled, with the politics really there to provide a context to their actions. I definitely don't see them as novels about politics, but they were a form of therapy for me to try to make sense of the politics of the world that was happening around me at the time I was writing. I've cover that novel-by-novel below, in as spoiler-free a fashion as I can.
First, let's cover some generalities to set the context. I make no apologies for my currently unfashionable liberal outlook on the world. I'm very pro-EU – increasingly so as I've understood its history, its roots immediately after the second world war and its role in keeping Europe in an unprecedented era of peace ever since. There's a strong argument that could be made that in terms of international cooperation, it's one of the greatest achievements in human history, for all the faults it may have.
I'm hoping Brexit will allow the EU to reform and progress towards greater integration and long-term stability, without the UK acting as a brake, and I also hope the UK can make the best of its life away from it. Maybe, in a generation, we may return, but I hope that's only if our current nationalistic tendencies have abated and we genuinely want to be part of something larger.
None of this means I agree with everything my protagonists say – often they may be things I've considered in darker moments when the news has depressed me, but I then took them to the extremes with the characters given what they were going through.
Before I get into the specifics of the novels, three general themes crop up more than once, so I'll cover my personal feelings on these.
1. The human race doesn't adequately learn from the lessons of its history, and when it does, it often takes the wrong inspiration from it. Now, this is definitely something I personally agree with – hard to argue against when we're reusing and falling for the same techniques from the 1920s and 1930s that took the world to war.
2. Beware saviours, even ones you personally agree with, as their motivations are probably not what you imagine and they can lead you down paths that are hard to get off of once you've started. I've made no secret of my disgust of politicians like Nigel Farage who deliberately stoke up division and hatred to push their agenda. Then again, I've also seen those on the 'other side' equally happy to use misinformation to further their own cause. Think for yourself, do your own research and don't follow blindly – a lesson I've learned belatedly.
3. Humanity is inherently flawed and can't be trusted to decide for itself. I'd definitely not agree with this, despite the above two issues. However, it's a logical extrapolation from the viewpoint of Raj Tamboli at the start of Integration, so that's something that crops up more than once – usually inspired by his thoughts. Individually, people can be wonderful, whatever their politics – loving, thoughtful, creative, inspirational. It's typically only when en-masse we're whipped up by malicious leaders into nationalistic frenzies that we spiral down into darkness. Is that inherent in human nature? Can we ever cure ourselves of the disease of fearing others not like ourselves? I don't know, but it's not a battle I'm willing to give up.
Right, now onto the novel-specific thoughts. I'll start with Long Division, as I carelessly wrote the second novel of my trilogy first, initially envisioning it as a standalone novel.
It won't be too much of a surprise that it was the tactics of Nigel Farage's Leave campaign before the Brexit referendum that inspired me to write this novel. These days I try to avoid using the word 'fascism' as it's bandied about too widely by all sides, but this is the one time I feel the need to use it.
The final pieces of the novel fell into place when I read Robert O Paxton's excellent book The Anatomy of Fascism, outlining the history of its emergence in 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany. It's a useful reference as it predates the more recent resurgence of the far-right (and the far-left's antisemitism) in western civilisations.
It was hard not to see the parallels in the techniques used by Farage and his associates with those from the early days of fascism's emergence. Too often people think how fascism ended up, with stormtroopers, death camps, etc, and forget the tactics it used to sway the population to gain power in the first place. We need to stop it before it's too late, although it may already be so.
I decided that it would be interesting to explore the use of the techniques of fascism in the closed society of Juno, which has no history of these tactics to warn them against it. To add further texture, Juno starts as an authoritarian, ethnically segregated society in desperate need of reform itself. If you had the choice of which side to support, which would you choose?
I will admit that this theme isn't exactly subtle in the novel. OK, I do hit you over the head with a mallet at times. I mean, look at the section names: Philosophy, Propaganda, Struggle, Revolution, Reckoning. If you do a Google search for these, you'll quickly come across a well-known work featuring these terms going by the initials MK. There are also some not unsubtle names for the pamphlets distributed by the People's Resistance. When you get that far, go take a look at the infamous International Jew pamphlets from Henry Ford.
Yeah, I know, you get the message.
Civilisations rise, civilisations fall. Why should ours be any different? That's the starting point for Integration, when the main economic and technological powerhouses are in the Indian subcontinent and Africa, having grown to dominance after western civilisations have fallen to chaos caused by targeted misinformation through hybrid warfare, with the carcass being fought over between China and Russia who are about to inflict nuclear warfare on each other – and the rest of the world.
That's really just the background premise to have all the conditions in place for Raj Tamboli to have to risk everything to transform the world to match his own blueprint, rather than anything overly critical to the story itself. To rub it home, one of the main protagonists, Carole Cantor is the daughter of refugees who fled from England to India.
The concept of misinformation bringing down western societies was largely inspired by James Patrick's eye-opening book Alternative War covering the history of Russia's interference in our democracies. He makes the case that we've fought, and lost, a war without even noticing.
Now they're not the only ones at it, but right now, I'm at a loss to understand how democracies can sensibly survive the level of misinformation that is spread online, on social media, and increasingly even these days through the traditional press. How can people make rational voting choices when they only get their news through personally selected sources that serve to reinforce their existing prejudices? Yes, I'm aware I've been guilty of that too, and even when you're aware of it, it's hard to get it right.
I recently had a conversation with a Farage-worshipping, muslim-hating family member who, after telling me people weren't swayed by Russian misinformation, then went on and spouted several favourite topics of Russian propaganda that she believed were fact, such as that it was the EU's fault that Russia HAD to invade Crimea.
This type of misinformation used to be on the fringes of society, but it's now mainstream. Indeed, the UK government of the day was no longer troubled by the truth during its 2019 general election campaign.
How can democracy survive in such a post-truth world? I don't know what the answer is, but in Integration, it didn't. The implication thereafter is that social media was much more tightly regulated to keep society stable. I'm not proposing that as an answer, but it is definitely a problem.
In a world where expertise is no longer valued, and truth no longer matters, the race to the bottom has only just begun.
So, Transformation acts as a sequel to both Integration and Long Division, uniting both stories and bringing them to a fuller conclusion. I didn't want to just rehash the themes of the earlier novels, so what other method of control of large swathes of human society could I plunder for my story? <lightbulb moment> Religion, of course!
I've studiously avoided any criticism of specific religions, other than a passing sarcastic remark about the use of confessionals to gather information about a community, as I've nothing specifically against any faith – although I have a bit of an anathema for organised religion of any sort given the harm they have caused over the centuries.
I have a lot of respect for those who live their life according to a faith of their choice – but I do have a major problem with those who want to impose the tenets of their religion upon others, or to impose the mores of a couple of millennia ago on a modern, more ethically-advanced, society. I bestow particular scorn on adherents like Ann Widdecombe who don't believe it is possible to be a good, moral person unless you're a Christian. Take a hard look in the mirror, you disgusting person.
I was raised as a Church of England Christian, serving time as an angelic choirboy when I was around 10 years old. OK, the main reason me and my friends joined the choir was to play in the choir football team and play hide-and-seek in the graveyard before choir practise, but hey. Gradually over the years, I've drifted through agnosticism into atheism, largely driven by my experiences and the harm I've seen caused to individuals by the intolerance of many in the church.
There was a specific moment that inspired one aspect of Transformation. I remember sitting in the choir stalls, listening to the rector's sermon on how you had to be a Christian to enter the kingdom of heaven. I thought: is that fair? If I'd been born in an Arabic country, I'd be destined for hell? What sort of kind, benevolent God came up with that idea?
What gave the church the right to be the gatekeepers of heaven?
That was the perfect way in. In Transformation, Earth now had its own equivalent of a true Afterlife – which needed a pseudo-religion in the way as gatekeepers who could use access to it to control the human race once more. With a pseudo-religion also on the rise on Juno, it was all fitting together nicely. Add a somewhat supernatural being into the mix who actually does know the meaning of life, the universe and everything, then there was a lot for me to have fun with. And I did.
In conclusion, none of the above is really what each story is about, nor is what drives the characters forward, but it does provide the context within which each story takes place. As I say, much of this is a way for me to try to make sense of the world as it is now, but once I set the characters free into those worlds, they had a life of their own and went in directions I wasn't expecting.
I had a great time writing these novels, I hope you have as much fun reading them.